A labor of love: The mealtime routine of Dena the Corgi



Published: 04-13-2017 2:10 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — At precisely 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., Dena trots over to the dining room, hops in her special high chair and chows down.

This is part the daily routine of Dena, the 11-year-old Welsh corgi and her owner, 89-year-old Theresa St. Martin. When she was 4, Dena was diagnosed with megaesophagus, a condition that enlarged and weakened her esophagus, making it more difficult for food to get to her stomach.

After the diagnosis, St. Martin’s late husband, Arthur, was concerned about being able to take care of Dena, and suggested putting her down. St. Martin refused, and committed herself to taking care of Dena.

The routine goes as follows. St. Martin puts a digestive aid pill in some vanilla yogurt with some mushed carrots on the side for Dena to eat. Exactly an hour later, Dena and St. Martin make their way over to Dena’s special high chair in the dining room, with the legs lowered all the way to the ground.

Dena knows the drill — she hops right up into the chair and waits patiently for St. Martin to bring over her meal of softened dog food. In the morning, she gets some pureed pumpkin on the side as well. Dena sits her bottom end in the seat and puts her front paws up on the tray of her special chair as St. Martin places her food bowl in front of her. She laps up the food like any hungry dog would. Then, St. Martin sets the kitchen timer for precisely 20 minutes.

Despite the commotion of young grandchildren running about the house, Dena lounges patiently until it is time to leave the chair. The 20 minutes in the chair allows gravity to help the food to pass properly to Dena’s stomach.

St. Martin has been feeding Dena this way twice every day for the last 7 years.

“She’s a good kid,” St. Martin said, referring to Dena. “She doesn’t yell, she knows the routine.”

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St. Martin has to be constantly on the ball with Dena’s routine. She has not been on a vacation since 2013 because there are only a few people who can keep up Dena’s feeding routine, including St. Martin’s son’s friend and one of her daughters.

“It’s a labor of love,” said St. Martin’s daughter, Pat Estes.

Even with such a meticulous routine, Dena and St. Martin’s other corgi, Duke, get the full love and attention they need. St. Martin calls them her “kids,” talks to them and shares mealtime treats with them. St. Martin explained that Dena’s condition does anything but curb her curiosity.

“Dena is even more active than Duke,” St. Martin said. “She’s busy all the time. She’s nosey.”

There are two things Dena can eat outside of the chair without any trouble: cauliflower and broccoli, her favorite treats. Sometimes, St. Martin sneaks Dena a few hard pieces of kibble in her chair after her mail. Before her joints got sore, Dena and Duke used to take St. Martin out for a walk around the block.

“Dena must be at least my age in dog years,” St. Martin said. “I treat her like a little old lady, I always let her take her time.”

As she grows older and loses more friends and family to old age, St. Martin said the bond with her dogs becomes even more important. Estes added that taking care of Dena and Duke gives her mother purpose.

“It keeps my mother going,” Estes said. “It’s a part of her now. It’s just the way things are.”

Morgan Hughes can be reached at mahughes@umass.edu.